Don't play God

Global economic, network and climate systems are complex, and their true nature can't be understood by referencing a single event or characteristic apparent to us. By itself, a cold and snowy March Kentucky day says nothing about global climate change.

Beginning with a story about a courageous British doctor and prisoner in the second world war, economist Tim Harford delivers a lovely mediation on the all-too-human tendency to meet complex unknowns with judgements that harden into certainty, and asks us to apply the same wisdom applied by that doctor, ever the scientist: don't play God.

Rather, fail better. In open systems better outcomes can be had by taking measured risks to improve a product or service - a practice for which Google, seemingly always in beta, is well known. In open systems, complex questions of science respond to patient probing. In open systems, it can be better, and not because one person or group of persons are certain that it can, but because reality will always be bigger than our uncertainty anyway. Isn't that good news?

Based on his best selling book, Drunkard's Walk, Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow will talk about the related idea of randomness at IdeaFestival 2011. And one of Harford's colleagues at TED Global in Scotland, Sheril Kirshenbaum, will be at IdeaFestival 2011 to present "the science of kissing." Bring your boyfriend or girlfriend. Come prepared to learn.

I hope to see you there!